Diverted by war – dinosaurs

A little sidetrack into the experiences of a district commissioner in British East Africa led to the discovery of a book by Gerhard Maier recording the experiences of an expedition to find a dinasour: African Dinosaurs unearthed: The Tendaguru Expeditions (2003). In this Gerhard touches on the impact of the war.

The expedition had gone out for the big National Exhibition German Governor Heinrich Schnee was organising. This exhibiton led to huge quantities of food and supplies being imported into the colony. An unexpected little supply for when the war broke out.

News of Britain’s declaration of war was received in Dar es Salaam at 6.15am on 5 August 1914.

Schnee had apparently started a small pox innoculation programme.
There were about 100 government schools for African blacks while missionaries had a total of 1,832. 115,000 were enrolled out of a population of 7 million.
These and other developments were undone by the war, exaccerbated by the movement of people across the country and then the influenza outbreak. Maier estimates between 50 000 and 60 000 died from illness in the German colony.

The geologists, scientists and others involved in the expedition served in different capactities, some armed, others looking after supply etc. A couple managed to source bones which they then lost along with their notes. Maier suggests some of the dinosaur bones were taken to South Africa, while after the war the British picked up researching the dinosaurs.

I haven’t read the rest of the book yet, which looks rather fascinating. It might be one to recommend to my nephew and commission a synopsis.

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Feeding an army

Much has been written about the poor feeding of the forces in the East Africa campaign of World War One, the men often on less than full rations. The Pike Report of 1918, published on the GWAA website provides insight into the different rations that each group was entitled to, which was rather an eye-opener, the level of detail and attention is rather astonishing even to the extent of animal rations.

It was therefore with some interest to discover rations for the Turkish Army at Gallipoli and the problems the Ottoman Empire had provisioning the men.

It doesn’t excuse the paucity of rations to the African troops, but it is rather reassuring that it was a more global issue. Having a very specific interest such as the war in East Africa can lead to thinking the situation was unique – indeed some authors have claimed this to be the case, myself included in earlier years. However, it’s helpful taking a peak into other areas of the war and other military encounters to see how similar wars are in many respects and that as with life in general, few learn from others’ mistakes.

For anyone interested in the Ottoman/Turkish side of the Gallipoli, Macquaire University have some useful links as I discovered on James Patton’s site Kansas WW1. And for those wondering how I was side-tracked to Turkey and the Ottoman Empire – it’s all Lord Kitchener’s fault.

Walther Dobbertin raises questions

Walther Dobbertin was a German photographer who spent time in East Africa before and during World War 1. Many of the photos we know of German askari were taken by Dobbertin.

Suprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a biography of Walther. He was born in 1882, emigrated to German East Africa in 1903, served with the German army in East Africa during World War One until his capture in 1916. After being released as a prisoner of war, he returned to Germany where he died in 1961. There is a lovely photo of him here.

What I find intriguing though, is that many of his war photos are dated 10/4/1918. I discovered this when completing the book Zambia: The end of the Great War in Africa 1918-2018. We were, and still are, trying to identify the British officer in a photo with von Lettow-Vorbeck and Georg Kraut. This particular photo is marked March 1918, although the commons licence notes March 1919, and to the credit of the Bundesarchiv, it does not identify the photographer.

The photo and date pose some challenges:

– in March 1918, von Lettow Vorbeck was in Portuguese East Africa, so highly unlikely he’d be posing in a relaxed photo with a British staff officer.
– it is most likely this photo was taken after the surrender/laying down of arms once the German officers had arrived in Dar es Salaam which places is between December 1918 and 5 February 1919. At this time, Dobbertin was in a prisoner of war camp somewhere having been taken prisoner in 1916.

The conclusion here is that someone other than Dobbertin must have taken this photo, a British soldier who gave a copy to von Lettow-Vorbeck? This seems the most likely explanation for how this got into the Bundesarchiv.

But what about the other photos Dobbertin took which are dated 4/1918? eg 1, 2, 3

  • Was Dobbertin part of a prisoner exchange which saw him return to Germany earlier than post-war?
  • Was he allowed to send his wife all these photos or negatives whilst a prisoner? Surely the British authorities would have wanted to see the photos themselves and possibly kept a copy – are these hidden away in an archive or private collection somwhere?
  • Did Dobbertin manage to give the negatives to one of the captains of a blockade runner who then was able to return to Germany via Portuguese East Africa?
  • Are these the dates the negatives were developed by Dobbertin in his prison camp, which were then later adopted by the Bundesarchiv when it catalogued the collection? eg 2 looks like it was taken at Tanga in 1914

Other questions which then come to mind:

  • Did Dobbertin only take photos for his own pursposes? or
  • were any of his photos used for intelligence purposes such as those taken by Cherry Kearton?

From the sample of photos available on the internet, it appears that none were taken for intelligence purposes, which begs the question, why?
And then, the German photos referred to in the Bohill collection at Hendon RAF Archive – who were they taken by? And what did they consist of? And where are they now?

A sample of Dobbertin’s photos was published in 1932, since reprinted, but with the advent of the internet, many can be found online thanks to the Bundesarchiv’s accessibility policy.

Perhaps one day someone will consider investigating this man who has provided us with a fascinating collection of photos from the German colonial period in East Africa.

 

 

Resigning in War

Working through the GROs (General Routine Orders – best explanation found) for East Africa [see GRO tab in link], I have been surprised at the number of people who resigned their commissions during the war, and which were accepted. Outside of war, it makes sense, but rather intriguing during war.

The best thing to do, is see if there are individual files on the people concerned but at the moment, time doesn’t allow for that. What piqued my interest though was that it was permissible. The fact that all, at least before late 1916, were volunteers would permit people to leave the armed forces if they so desired; they were not required to stay. So. under what circumstances could someone resign their commission?

The 1912 King’s Regulations (p49) explain: length of service, unfit for duty due to medical reasons, desire to be placed on half-pay list etc. These being the reasons pre-war, what, if anything, changed during the war? There’s a very helpful little publication called Various amendments and reprints of amendments to the King’s Regulations published between 1916 and 1921 which provides some insight into amendments of the King’s Regulations. A search on ‘discharge’ will provide all the conditions under which a person could leave their commission and how it was to be dealt with.

But this raises more questions as there is only one mention of women in the ‘amendments’ document and nothing about nursing…looking at the GROs, there were a few women/nurses who resigned their posts too. One of the women, according to family folklore, met her future husband in hospital. When they decided to get married/or she discovered she was pregnant (the order of events hasn’t yet been firmly determined), she resigned her post. It appears there was still some issue about married women working, even in the colonies where manpower was in great demand, although we know some convalescent homes were run by married women – other factors must have been at play, not least preganancy.

Back to the men:

  • many most likely resigned because they were medically unfit to continue – that there was 75% attrition mainly due to malaria, blackwater fever, dysentery suggests plausibility.
  • How many, though, resigned in order to re-enlist in Europe which was seen as the main theatre? We know there are a few rank and file who deserted to re-enlist in a preferred theatre, some under different names – when found they were usually deducted a day’s pay (research still being undertaken, hence no examples specified). Presumably it was better for officers to resign their commission and then re-enlist…
  • A few in East Africa specifically received permission to return to their farms to deal with the harvest as the military situation in 1914 and 1915 was rather quiet, and two Indian Expeditionary Forces had arrived which could help with defending the British East African border.
  • How many others were tired of the war and what it stood for? The account of Max Plowman, not on the African continent, giving a example.

It’s taken a little time and lateral thinking to source information on resigning commissions in World War 1. There is far more literature on how they were obtained. And, this, raises more questions to be answered at some stage:

  • Why the difference in focus?
  • What were the perceptions around people resigning their commission at the time vis-a-vis ‘What did you do during the war, Daddy?’, the conscription debate and the issues around conscientious objectors?

I wonder what new light will be shone on the campaigns in Africa when someone gets round to investigating the reasons men and women resigned their commissions over the length of the various campaigns?

Comparatively speaking: 1899 vs 1914

The 2nd Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899-1902 saw the following numbers involved on the British side:

  • 365,693 British Imperial troops
  • 82,742 Colonial troops (white)
    • 448,435 total

of these 22,000 died:

  • 5,774 killed in action;
  • 16,168 from disease and wounds
    • 21,942 (4.9%)

In comparison, the East Africa campaign of 1914-1918 saw the following total numbers in the British forces:

of the armed force

  • 3,443 killed in action
  • 6,558 disease and wounds
    • 10,001 (11%)

Carriers and labourers during the 1899-1902 war have not been recorded as readily as for the East Africa campaign:

  • 90,440 (14.6%) in East Africa

In places where large numbers had died – Bloemfontein, for instance – the government took responsibility for the graves. To tend – even to find – where those killed in battle had been buried was more difficult, for ‘the number of small skirmishes … made the task of keeping each grave in order very hard, while the [frequent] necessity … of marching a few hours after men had been killed made even the marking of graves difficult’ (Lord Methuen, The Times, 14 October 1904)

I couldn’t help compare the two campaigns – descriptions in Thomas Packenham’s The Boer War being reminsicent of so many diary entries for East Africa. Methuen’s quote struck a cord too, leading to the conclusion that, if it was this difficult to keep track of so few dead in a relatively compact campaign such as that conducted in South Africa, the achievement in East Africa, where the fighting took place over a far greater area despite the territories being of similar size,* of those identifying and caring for the graves is quite remarkable. And it explains why we’re still finding names** of those who have not yet been officially recognised for their service on the African continent during 1914-1918.

* According to https://www.mylifeelsewhere.com Tanzania is approximately 947,300 sq km, while South Africa is approximately 1,219,090 sq km. Meanwhile, the population of Tanzania is ~54.0 million people (890,617 more people live in South Africa).

** the South African War Graves Project has identified numerous names as part of its project as have others researching specific areas. As these are verified they’re being added to the CWGC site. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after the 1899-1902 graves in South Africa as well.

Reference for 1899-1902 info: Elizabeth Riedi, Imperialist women in Edwardian Britain: The Victoria League 1899-1914, PhD University of St Andrew’s, 1998, p.69
WW1 figures: GWAA, Huw Strachan WW1 in Africa

 

 

 

Fait accompli – battlefield decisions

One of my interests is the influence of the individual on the course of events, so rather than accepting a statement such as ‘the War Office decided…’, I will try and find out who exactly at the War Office made the suggestion which was eventually accepted. The same goes for ‘x won the battle’ – x being the commander, but there were many little actions taking place during that battle which could have gone either way. X, too, quite often wasn’t even at the site of the battle, having issued instructions via telegraph or command order. The classic case here is that of Horace Smith-Dorrien in England drawing up the battle plan for the battle of Salaita, which was approved by the War Office, Wully Robertson, on 26 December 1915, having to be carried out by General Tighe in British East Africa, now responsible to Jan Smuts who was still on his way to the theatre.

So, I was rather intrigued to come across this article on the Victoria Cross and how decisions made on the battlefield changed the way it was managed. This article raises some other fascinating little snippets to consider:

  • It draws attention to Lord Roberts making poor decisions during the Second Anglo-Boer/South African War of 1899-1920. All to often it’s Lord Kitchener and the battle of Paardeberg which is used as the classic example of poor battlefield management.
  • The impact of family connections – Roberts lost his last son, Freddy, at the battle of Colenso shortly before he arrived to take over command from Buller. Both Lord Kitchener’s brothers joined the military – one, Walter, serving under him in South Africa and the other, Henry, being sent to East Africa during 1914/5 to assist with recruitment amongst other things. How did having family connections in high places in the army affect decisions regarding promotions, awards etc?
  • The fair play and detailed considerations of the War Office when it comes to changing precident. This connects with the previous point – Lord Roberts on arrival back in England sought to ensure that Schofield, who had also been killed at Colenso, was awarded the VC rather than the DSO which Buller had recommended him for.
  • The objectivity involved in making award decisions – Ian Hamilton who was quite involved in the decision-making about the changes to the VC awards, had twice been nominated for one and on both occasions Buller had denied them.

So much, from one little article, although it didn’t hold the info I was hoping to be able to use… the search continues.

Captain Henry Peel Ritchie was the first member of the Royal Navy to receive a VC, for action in East Africa on 28 November 1914 at Dar es Salaam.

John Fitzhardinge Paul Butler (date of action 17 November and 27 December 1914) in West Africa. He later accompanied West African Frontier Force troops to East Africa.

The first military VC awarded in East Africa was a post-humous one – to Wilbur Dartnell who was killed (3 September 1915) having stayed behind despite being wounded to protect some of his men who had fallen. Background can be found here.

William Anderson Bloomfield (date of action 24 August 1916)

Frederick Charles Booth (date of action 12 February 1917)

Andrew Frederick Beaucamp-Proctor, RFC (date of action 8 October 1918)

According to a list of VC winners on Wikipedia (not complete as only one WW1 East African listed), 8 VCs were awarded for actions in South Africa pre-1885, 3 in Rhodesia pre-1896, 6 Anglo-Boer War 1899-1901 – one of these is John David Francis Shaul who is buried in Boksburg, my hometown and who also served in Africa during World War 1; another is Alexander Young who, after serving in South West Africa, died on the Somme (the article incorrectly claims East Africa).

Quiet recognition

Recently, I’ve been discovering acknowledgements to various forces which have tended to be kept out of the media spotlight.

The first was an article on Johannesburg’s oldest war memorial – one to Indian troops. It dates back to 31 October 1902.

And by the time I got to visit Delville Wood on Friday 16 March 2018, I had discovered that when the memorial was opened in 1926, there were three acknowledgements which didn’t make it into the white press. Thanks to Bill Nasson who discovered a newspaper record of it and referenced it in an article entitled Delville Wood and South African Great War Commemoration (English Historical Review, 2004).

  • Leo Walmseley laid a wreath to the carriers and labourers who served in Europe and Africa. Leo himself had been a pilot in the East Africa campaign.
  • Petals were thrown to remember the 250 Indian Stretcher Bearers from South Africa who served and
  • Major William Cunningham remembered the Cape Corps who had served in East Africa and Palestine.

The newspaper which carried the info was African World Supplement, xi Abantu-Batho, 1 October 1926.

It’s a pity such remembrance was done on the quiet but it shows that there are always some who stand out from the crowd.